Posts Tagged ‘William Dudley’

All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

26 September, 2010

For a fistful of dollars would a man supply defective equipment to the front line of his own side in a war? Yes, because those dollars provide for his family, his sons, and his largesse to his neighbours. Such crooks can be good family men — think of the Mafia barons. But in this play, Joe Keller — brilliantly portrayed by David Suchet — is a warm character who loves everyone and would never stoop to any such shenanigans. Or so it appears. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1945, and honed it to perfection before releasing it in 1947. Miller was a craftsman, with his hands as well as his pen, and saw this play as a make or break for him. It’s as close to perfection as you can get, and with direction by Howard Davies and a beautiful set by William Dudley, along with superb acting by the whole cast, it must be the best thing on the West End stage at the moment.

Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet, photo by Nobby Clark

The play revolves around one character, Larry, who’s never on stage. He’s the son who disappeared during the war, but there was no body, no proof that he died, and his mother Kate — beautifully played by Zoë Wanamaker — refuses to believe he’s gone forever. She even gets a neighbour to construct an astrological chart to show he couldn’t have died on the day he disappeared. Stephen Campbell Moore was superb as the other son, Chris who survived the war, showing him to be the most reasonable, level-headed character you could imagine, and Jemima Rooper as the late Larry’s sweetheart Ann Deever was equally wonderful. They want to get married, but Kate won’t have it while Larry is still alive, and if she admits he’s dead . . . well her whole world will crash down. Why? When Daniel Lapaine as Ann’s brother George flies in to stop the marriage the audience hears another side of the story. Ann and George’s father, who was once Joe’s neighbour and business associate, went to prison for producing that defective equipment but George has just visited him and now thinks he’s innocent. Was he imprisoned unjustly? Can the wonderful, homely Joe Keller be the real culprit?

Ann, Joe, Chris and Kate, photo by Nobby Clark

Surely not, and they talk George round into being reasonable, until he eventually says, “I never felt at home anywhere but here”. But there’s more to come, including the issue of the impending marriage, and Kate’s denial that Larry is dead. So Ann is finally forced to bring out a letter from Larry she carries with her, and this leads to the final dénouement.

David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and the others were so natural, I believed all the emotions I saw on display, and Miller’s play has a deft logic that packs a huge emotional punch. I came out feeling utterly drained . . . and I was merely in the audience! How do the actors do it — night after night?

Unfortunately there are very few nights left, as the run ends on October 2nd. It’s a sell-out of course, but worth any number of phone calls and trips to the theatre to get returns.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2010

20 March, 2010

For anyone who loves magical realism this opera is one of the best, and the production by Bill Bryden makes the most of it, with forest animals on the ground and flying through the air. The dichotomy between the slow moving human world and the swift flow and change of the animal realm is brought out very well, and the springtime of Act III is beautifully portrayed. There’s a famous poem in Czech called May (Mai in Czech) extolling the mysterious powers of nature, and in his libretto, Janaček uses May as a metaphor for springtime. He was powerfully drawn to nature, and this opera, like its predecessor Katya Kabanova — also playing in London at present — pits natural forces against the contrivances of human civilization. Janaček wrote it in 1924 when he was nearly 70, three years after Katya, and both operas, along with his two final ones, deal with death in one way or another. This one in particular juxtaposes the aging of men with the cyclical renewal of nature.

Human civilization is mainly represented by three men, the Forester, the Schoolmaster, and the Priest, and at one point all three sit in a round orb suspended from above, reminding me of that nursery rhyme, Rub-a-dub-dub; three men in a tub. The three of them are, at least emotionally, frustrated, and the schoolmaster’s yearning for a gypsy girl, is like the yearning of man for nature, and parallels the forester’s original entrapment of the vixen, whom he can’t keep. In the event, the gypsy girl, whom we never see, marries the poacher, and the vixen marries the fox and produces a huge family. When the poacher shoots her, a small child in the audience burst into tears, which charmed some people, but this is not an opera for small children. It’s very much an adult work, and I think the Royal Opera have done the right thing to have it sung in English. The libretto by the composer is subtle, and worth understanding. That said, the opera first became known through its German translation by Max Brod, which gave us the English title. In Czech it’s called Vixen Sharp Ears.

The conducting by veteran Charles Mackerras was wonderful. This is the man who introduced British audiences to Janaček, and having him in the orchestra pit was a treat. The singing was very good throughout. Emma Matthews was a thoroughly charming vixen, and Elisabeth Meister gave a good portrayal of the fox, replacing Emma Bell at the last minute. Christopher Maltman was an excellent forester, and Robin Leggate and Jeremy White both did well as the schoolmaster and the priest, with Matthew Rose singing strongly in the bass role of the poacher.

But this is an opera to be seen as well as heard, and William Dudley’s designs, along with the movement directed by Stuart Hopps, have a wonderful charm. Magical realism is probably more widely known from something like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but the Slavic version is also a joy. Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita comes to mind, and in the opera world Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, written just three years before Vixen. If you don’t already know the opera, and even if you do, this production by Bill Bryden is a must-see.